Low back pain is an something many of us are all too familiar with. It affects around 80% of people at some point in their lives, with varying degrees of severity and impact on daily living. Often, the cause is attributed to poor posture, muscle imbalances, improper lifting techniques, or lifestyle circumstances. However, recent research suggests that there might be more to this common condition than meets the eye: Tight hips.
Understanding the Connection
The lower back and hips are intricately linked through a complex network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Pain or tightness in the hips can lead to an imbalance in this system, causing undue stress on the lower back. This phenomenon is often referred to as “referred pain,” wherein pain is felt in an area distinct from its actual source.
In a 2020 study published in the ‘Journal of Physical Therapy Science,’ researchers found a significant correlation between hip mobility and low back pain (1). The findings suggested that tight hips and hip motion, particularly in extension and internal rotation, can contribute to low back pain due to altered movement patterns and compensatory strategies.
Another study in 2021 in the ‘Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy’ showed that individuals with chronic low back pain frequently exhibit decreased hip mobility, specifically in the hip flexors and external rotators (2). The study implies that these mobility restrictions might be a potential mechanism for the development and maintenance of chronic low back pain.
Addressing the Issue At Home
While professional help is essential for a proper diagnosis and treatment, there are several home remedies that can complement medical interventions for low back pain related to tight hips.
1. Stretching and Mobility Exercises For Tight Hip
Stretching exercises can improve hip mobility, reducing the tension exerted on the lower back. Some effective stretches from our Rehab360 program for our patients include 90x90s, adductor stretch, and the hip flexor stretch.
Sit on the floor with your back straight. Bring the soles of your feet together in front of you, let your knees drop out to the sides, and pull your heels towards you. Holding your feet, gently press your knees down with your elbows to feel a stretch in your hips.
From a tabletop position, bring your right knee forward towards your right wrist. Extend your left leg behind you, keeping your hip grounded. If comfortable, you can lean forward to intensify the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Hip Flexor Stretch:
Kneel on your right knee with your left foot in front. Keep your back straight and gently push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your right hip. Switch sides and repeat.
2. Strengthening Exercises For Tight Hips
Strength training for the hip muscles can also help reduce the load on the lower back. Exercises such as bridges, clamshells, and hip airplanes are particularly effective.
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly lowering back down.
Lie on your side with your legs stacked and bent at a 45-degree angle. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee as high as possible without shifting your hips. Lower your knee back down and repeat.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your right knee is at a 90-degree angle. Push back up to the starting position and repeat with your left foot.
3. Regular Movement
Incorporate regular movement into your daily routine. Regular walks, taking breaks from prolonged sitting, or adding light activity throughout the day can help keep your hip joints flexible and reduce the strain on your lower back.
4. Heat/Cold Therapy
Heat can help relax tight muscles and increase blood flow, while cold can help reduce inflammation. Both can be useful tools in managing pain and discomfort at home based on what is most comfortable and relieving for you.
5. Sleeping Position
Your sleeping position can significantly impact your hips and lower back.
- Sleeping on your back with a pillow placed under your knees can help maintain the natural curve of your spine and relieve pressure on your hips.
- If you’re a side sleeper, drawing your legs up slightly toward your chest and placing a pillow between your knees can keep your hips, pelvis, and spine aligned.
- Stomach sleepers might want to consider adjusting their sleeping habits as this position can put stress on the lower back.
Keep in mind, it’s not just about the position, but the quality of your mattress and pillows also play a crucial role in providing the necessary support to your body, particularly your hips and lower back, reducing the likelihood of pain and discomfort.
Low back pain, while prevalent, is not always straightforward. Tight or painful hips can be a key contributor to this condition. However, with a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the body’s musculoskeletal system, and by incorporating regular stretching, strengthening, and mobility practices into our routines, we can better manage and potentially alleviate this common discomfort.
Before getting into any exercise program, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure the activities are suitable for your specific condition. Every person’s body is unique, and a personalized approach is always the best way forward in managing low back pain.
- Nakamura, M., et al. (2020). The Relationship Between Anterior Pelvic Tilt, Hip Mobility, and Low Back Pain: A Review. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 32(8), 514–519.
- Gombatto, S. P., et al. (2021). Patterns of Lumbar Region Movement During Trunk Lateral Bending in Two Different Subgroups of People With Low Back Pain. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 51(4), 165–176.